Marine Drive, the place which embraces both the losers and the winners…Come here to express your happiness or to share your grief. …
Talk about Rajasthan and the very first thing which creeps into our mind are the majestic monuments of the Pink City – Jaipur, the grandeur palaces of the Sun City – Jodhpur, the museums and deserts of the Golden City – Jaiselmar, the forts of Bikaner, lakes of Udaipur (Venice of India), shrine in Ajmer and the gorgeous Mount Abu. Mainly because, either we have read about them, visited these places or have seen the ads by travel agents/websites/travelers raving about Rajasthan’s royal and pride in these amazing places. However, the one place that everyone misses out is the glittering painted “Shekhawati” province.
Never heard about it, hmm? Well, even I was unaware of this beautiful dreamscape until one of the adventure site and my client, Shoes On Loose, introduced me to this magnificent region tucked in the lovely golden deserts of Rajasthan, sited right in the Jaipur-Bikaner-Delhi triangle.
Let’s take a look into this imperial town right here through my eyes. Ready? Here, we go!
Visualize a semi parched dreamscape of dazzling fields as well as plethora of splendid Havelis wrapped up in authentic frescos (mural paintings on wall). Picture it to be so mesmerizing in fine art and culture that it can be given the sobriquet of world’s biggest open art gallery. That’s precisely “Shekhawati”, the land of the Havellis and the frescos.
Engulfed by the Aravalli mountain ranges, the allure of this rock-strewn barricade comes as a shocker in this plain and arid landscape which is sprinkled with picturesque dunes and vivacious magnificent Havelis constructed in a unique architectural style in between 18th and 19th century by the Marwaris, India’s rich mercantile community. The Shekhawati wall paintings and arts are influenced from the Persians, the Mughals and the local people. It exhibits collection of themes from everyday life to hunting and mythology. You’ll be delighted to explore such a wonderful place in the state of Rajasthan. No wonder, you’ll be glad to witness right in the front of your eyes. Simply mesmerizing! The radiance of this place can be witnessed by stopping over at the Morarka Haveli Museum, Dr. Ramnath A Podar Haveli Museum and the beautiful Haveli Nadine Prince.
Not just man made wonders and beauty, in Shekhawati, you’ll also get to picture the Black Bucks at the Tal Chapar Sanctuary aka Black Bucks Park. Besides, black bucks there are many species to be looked at which you have never seen before or would like to witness such as the Eastern Imperial Eagle, Demoiselle Cranes and Desert Fox along with various other rare flora and fauna.
Even those who aren’t a photo fanatic will like to go behind the lenses when then entire the premises of Shekhawati to catch a glimpse of both the natural as well as the man made beauty of this marvelous province.
Mandawa, the decorated town and tourist capital of Shekhawati made me fall in love with her. The organic royal lunch, the painted Havelis of Gulab Rai Ladia, Snehiram Ladia and Mohanlal Saraf along with a nice time in the colorful bazaars of the frescoed town, made me a traveler photographer by default. While wandering in the market I learnt their dialect, “Kai kar reya ho?” which means what are you doing J. Mandawa also gives you a camel ride, if you are interested. Not me, I have a phobia that perhaps I’ll fall down :O. Lately, Mandawa was in news for the shooting of Raj Kumar Hiran’s PK which stars Aamir Khan and Sanjay Dutt.
Dundlod fort is surely not to be missed while venturing out in the province to witness the marvelous art and architecture of the royal Rajasthan and for some ancient monuments, the Ramgarh area is definitely a must visit.
With so many temples, havellis, forts wrapped up in mural paintings with amicable locals and exceptionally great rural Food, the dal batti churma (yummy), and a wildlife safari, Shekhawati was really a delight not only for photographers but also for travelers, explorers, architects, biologists, naturalist and to my surprise even the metropolitan lovers living in the Europe.
And why not…..
Because a trip to Shekhawati (150 km from Jaipur) is ought to bowl you over with its long-gone era, terrific heritage of art, effervescent mansions and of course its untouched natural beauty, making you witness the marvelous canvas of the natural world through the lenses of this haven!
Born and brought up in the West (Mumbai) with roots in the North, I was not at all aware of the beauty of South India until I visited Puducherry (earlier Pondicherry) last year, which was a French colony in the early 18th Century. Completely contrasting to any other place in South India, Pondy (as it is lovingly called and universally known) has a colonial commune and it preserves gently the “Gallic air” placed over the archetypal Indian milieu. Blossoming bougainvilleas, wild and leafy boulevards, bougainvilleas, French culture, luscious International cuisine, exceptional French architecture, friendly locals (Indians as well as French) and a prominent Aurobindo ashram, the amiable Pondy has it all!
When I visited Pondicherry I was in love with its beaches, multi-cuisine, the multi-kulti atmosphere and the serene air that blows throughout the place. The Goubert Avenue just few steps from my hotel was absolutely delightful. The beautiful Rocky Beach with astonishing monuments on the seafront is truly a visitors delight. The statues of Mahatma Gandhi, Jeanne d’Arc, the graceful War Memorial raised by the French, the 27m tall old lighthouse, the heritage building “Mairie”, Gandhi Thidal and the spherical shaped customs house are historians, travelers, rovers, architects and a photographer’s delight.
The emblem of Pondicherry Government , La Place du Panthéon, a reminder of the beauty of French architecture is surrounded by five parks and is just opposite to the promenade or rocky beach. The 1.5 km long promenade running along the beach is the pride of Puducherry and one of my favorite spots. On this promenade is the famous Le Caffe, a 24 hours coffee shop where you can not only have an amazing view of the beach but can also sip nice brewing coffee along with continental snacks. Nice place to chill out with family friends.
This is the place where you saw the car accident in Aamir-Rani-Kareena starer, Talash (Bollywood flick)
Not just scenic, Pondicherry is also a spiritual place due to the presence of Aurobindo ashram which was founded by Sri Aurobindo along with the Mother (Mirra Alfassa, Shri Aurobindo’s French collaborator and co-teacher). People all around the globe come here to study meditation, yoga and learn all about inner development. Just one visit to this amazing ashram and I was all mesmerized by the milieu and spiritual mood. The ashram is not only very serene, calm and peaceful but very gorgeous with the beautiful arrangement of flower cultivation. Unfortunately, no one can catch a glimpse of the ashram from inside as cameras are not allowed.
I was accompanied by my friend who is into meditation and I got to know about the ashram through him. I am glad I had the privilege of visiting this beautiful Ashram which formed the basis of my interest into spiritualism. And guess what? The spiritual attraction perfectly blends with the rolling waters of the Bay of Bengal and rich cultural inheritance to make Pondy an enthralling destination. You’ll always find lots of foreigners (Europeans, Americans, South East Asians, Africans, Chinese) coming all over India to visit the Ashram. Some of the Europeans here are the locals who speak very good Tamil.
Next, If you want to spend some serene time you can visit beaches and get yourself tanned with a pleasant sun at Sangamam beach and Auro beach. Get the absolute view of the beaches and enjoy the magnificent sunsets However, if you want to try some water sport Plage Paradiso (Chunnambar beach) is the place to be. If you are in love with food and wine, you’ll be glad you visited Pondy. From Italian, French, Chinese to Mexican, American and Japanese, you will get exclusive eateries, hotels and restaurants that serve your favorite menu. Most of the restaurants of Pondicherry offer a kaleidoscopic view of its charisma and tranquility with an exclusive chance to experiment with the various cuisines in this gorgeous place.
The pizzas which I ate at Café Xtasi, Mission Road was mouth watering. I really cherish them and so, all my visits to Pondy do include a Pizza from this eatery. Also, the Italian Restaurant Don Gouivano at the rooftop of hotel Corbelli run by an Italian chef was also a delight. I slurped some tuna with spaghetti while my friend was busy tearing yummy pork steak with a knife. Amazing food. Moreover, the whiskeys, rums, wines, beers, scotches are cheaper here as there is no crippling taxes over them. For a nice drink session with a beach view, jump in on the terrace of St. James Court on the ECR road opposite Pondy University. I visited the place and watched the sunset. Truly magnificent! Exotic views, mouth-watering cuisine, spiritual climate, peaceful atmosphere with absolutely cheap drinks, what else can be a rover’s wish!
Next, Pondicherry encompasses the famous Universal Town, Auroville which delights you internally and spiritually. Auroville welcomes folks from all parts of the world to live together and explore spiritual, educational, cultural, scientific and other quest in accordance with the Auroville Charter. Matri Mandir and Auroville Information hall are the places worth visiting. It offers less to see but lots to experience. It was started by Mother in 1968. It is not just endorsed by the Government of India but also the UNESCO and his holiness, the Dalai Lama. Hearing about it is nice but seeing it is believing it.
Historians, archaeologists can visit the Pondicherry museum which brings back memories of the magnificent past of Pondicherry, from the Greco-Roman days till the present, providing glimpses of the art and culture during the Chola, Pallava and Vijayanagar days. Artifacts from the Arikamedu excavation are conserved here.
Pondicherry is really an amazing place to visit and can be easily reached by all three modes – air, road and rail. However, the bus is the most convenient and preferred mode of transport. You can easily reach Pondy either via Chennai (150 km) or Bangalore (320 km). I went from Bangalore. You will find many buses that go from Bangalore and Chennai to Pondicherry. The best part about visiting Pondy is that, no matter what your budget is you find accommodations within your funds. The hotel accommodations available here are as cheap as Rs. 400 per day even the authentic ones aren’t so expensive.
A nature’s paradise with an amazing environment, culture and peaceful atmosphere, Pondicherry is that easy going coastal city which deserves a visit and once you are here, I am sure you will find yourself staying longer than you intended!